Ordinarily as we transition from one solar orbit to the next I’d be putting together a cheerful look back on the year in music dotted with favourite tracks and albums, breathtaking live performances, anecdotes from the summer festival circuit and so on. This time around that doesn’t seem quite so appropriate, or even possible, so instead here are twenty tracks from some of our favourite artists who in one way or another captured part of my experience of the past 12 months (don’t worry it won’t be quite as depressing as that sounds).
Warning: Some of these videos contain flashing images
The year kicked off with us barely registering the news that China was treating a number of cases of what appeared to be some form of pneumonia with an as yet unknown cause. We were instead bracing ourself for a year of Boris Johnson as PM, the fast-approaching Brexit cliff-edge and the apparant likelihood of a second term for Donald Trump. What we really needed at this moment was an otherworldly glimpse into a dystopian future in which teenage cave-dwellers took their message of resistance to the walls of a ravaged land – thankfully Deerhoof were there, reliably off-kilter as ever, with the title track from their 17th studio album ‘Future Teenage Cave Artists’ (read dummer Greg Saunier’s track by track guide to the album), and Joe Gideon provided us with a second taste of the end times – Armagideon (which featured Gris-De-Lin and Bad Seeds’ drummer Jim Sclavunos) was a bracing, dramatic set of tunes, typified by ‘The Gaping Yawn’ (read our review of the album launch).
Three years on from Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo, progress on representation and treatment of women in the music industry appeared to be making drepressingly slow progress, with the paucity of female and non-binary artists on many of the planned summer festival line-ups leading campaigner Vick Bain to create The F-List, a searchable database of thousands of UK based artists to give event organisers a shove in the right direction. There were plenty of musicians making noise about issues of sexism and abuse too, with Japanese punks Otoboke Beaver making their point abundantly clear with the 60 second explosion of ‘Dirty Old Fart Is Waiting For My Reaction’, and while Nadine Shah‘s Kitchen Sink album was more mellow in its presentation, it burned throughout with the same noble indignation at its heart, as evidenced in sensational single ‘Ladies for Babies (Goats for Love)’.
And then the world was turned upside down. A global pandemic, entire countries placed into lockdown, fear and uncertainty. And then the reaction to it – I’m not going to be foolish enough to claim that all of humanity pulled together for the greater good and that peace and harmony rang out across the globe; there were and still are a massive number of dangerous arseholes spreading misinformation and dischord or looking for an angle to profit from the chaos and misery, but from the front-line workers putting themselves at huge risk to save lives and keep the country running, to the huges sums of money raised by a multitude of charity campaigners to help those in need, to those who simply followed the rules to try and slow the spread, there were many points of light amongst the darkness. Written, though it seems hard to believe it, before the pandemic, before the lockdown, before clap for carers, Stephen EvEns‘ ‘Dustbin Man’ was a celebration of those dedicating their lives to working for the general good, whilst fixing a hard stare on those in power who’d spent a decade voting to cut services before joining the nation on their doorsteps to applaud those very workers whose jobs, pay and conditions they had laid waste to. There were plenty of other angry but perceptive voices joining the political fray too, with REAL(s) D.S.L.B., inspired by the writings of cultural theorist Mark Fisher, matching the message with rollicking punk rock tunes like ‘Stop Freaking Out’ (read our review of albums by both artists).
It was a year in which we felt the physical absense of friends and family acutely, and technology played an ever more important part in keeping us connected. On a personal note, one thing that kept my spirits up was getting involved in online musical projects, which included sending some rather shonky backing vocals to Hey You Guys! for their single ‘Brutal Holiday’ (also poignant for it’s Carry On theme following the sad passing of Barbara Windsor this year). Thankfully dozens of more talented singers also got in on the act, so you’ll barely notice my attempts to hit the notes (check out our video premiere). Pondering the indispensible place of our gadgets in modern life, Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom of The Burning Hell incited a techno-rebellion in ‘Rise Up Alexa’ (read our interview with Mathias at the onset of the pandemic), featuring guest vocals from the eponymous digital assistant herself.
With the lockdown came the cancellation of thousands of live events, including our own planned show with Shattercones (now rescheduled for the third time for 3rd June – fingers crossed!). The band caught the general mood with the sombre beauty of ‘Love On Repeat’. Whilst online gigs are no substitute for the real thing, there were plenty of artists taking to the web to give us a new music fix, and we were proud to team up with a group of fellow UK blogs and promoters to present a series of online Balcony Festivals, raising thousands of pounds for good causes in the process. One of the great things about working with other zines was the chance to discover new bands, and we were absolutely blown away by Chemtrails (read a track by track guide to their album The Peculiar Smell of The Inevitable).
Alt-folk troubadour Beans On Toast was one of many to mourn the loss of the festival season with the nostalgic ache of ‘Glastonbury Weekend’ (read a review of his album The Unforeseeable Future), while a group of our favourite South London musicians got together with Brixton Hill Studios to record a fantastic #saveourvenues rendition of Band Aid’s festive classic to raise some funds for the UK’s ailing independent music venues (it was featured on this year’s Joyzine Advent Calendar).
Throughout the year we went through a rollercoaster of feelings, from anger to dispondency to boredom, punctuated with odd moments of purpose and energy. Given their name we should perhaps have expected Mega Emotion to capture at least some of these, which they did, perfectly, with the shimmer of shuddering synths on ‘I Want So Much More Than You Can Give’, which could have been a direct comment to the year itself – though I must admit I hadn’t anticipated them doing so while dancing in full-sized jellyfish costumes (Mega Emotion interviewed their alter-egos Lady Di in one of our favourite videos of the year – watch it here). Elsewhere, the lip-curled smirk of MEMES ‘Cheer Up’ was perfect for the days that we wanted nothing more than to throw sarcastic barbs at those sharing empty platitudes or branding anyone questioning the governmental response a ‘naysayer’ and Bobby Funk‘s ‘I’m a Cat’ was just the blast of sweary absurdist punk rock that we needed on the days when being stuck at home was becoming a little to much to bear.
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis once again brought the systemic inequalities in society to the fore, not just in the US but in the UK and beyond as Black Lives Matter demonstrations took place around the globe. There were powerful messages from across the world of music, including a day of global social media blackouts, and one track that really hit home was Brixton street poet Beady Man‘s collaboration with Mysterion Zapien ‘Amerikkka’ and the powerful video created by John Clay (read an interview with the creators).
Experiences of discrimination were also at the heart of The Awkward Silences‘ ‘The Medical Model’, which explored the experiences of frontman and disability rights campaigner Paul Hawkins – he penned a track by track guide to his band’s eponymous 2020 album which you can read here.
As the year drew closer to an end, the US election campaign became ever more mired in misinformation and conspiracy theories, which despite Joe Biden’s election are likely to have repercussions for many years to come. On this side of the pond, I Like Trains bore deep into the heart of the deliberate use of ‘alternative facts’ and misdirection with the blistering polemic of ‘The Truth’ (check out frontman David Martin’s State of The Nation playlist).
And, like a cellophane-wrapped turd under the Christmas tree, the year was rounded off with Brexit. At least the lockdown saved us the sight of Nigel Farage prancing about Trafalgar Square with a pint in one hand and a Union Flag in the other, and a measure of festive cheer was meted out by The Kunts breaking into the Christmas top 5 with their delicate ode ‘Boris Johnson Is a Fucking Cunt’ (read our review). A more nuanced attack on the undercurrent of racism that helped bring about our exit from the EU came from Asian Dub Foundation and Stewart Lee, whose track ‘Comin’ Over Here’ topped the singles sales chart on Brexit day (read our interview with ADF’s Steve Chandra Savale).
So 2020, in summary, was not a year that many will remember fondly, and with a full national lockdown in place until mid-February this year hasn’t started off any better. But with a vaccination programme underway there is a pin-prick of light at the end of the tunnel, so with that little glimmer of hope in our hearts we’ll look forward to a time we’re allowed out to play again with a track from one of the albums that we’re most looking forwarding to hearing in 2021 – Croydon duo Frauds‘ ‘Copenhagen’, a perfect example of a track that places a serious message under a layer of silliness, while blasting the whole thing with A-grade post-hardcore heaviness (read a review of their gig at The Victoria from early 2020). Their second album, Long Spoons, is due for release through Alcopop Records later this year.
I’m looking forward to seeing them and you in a sweaty music venue before too long.
Article by Paul Maps